Review Summary: Popstep - pure, unadulterated nonsense that bares no resemblance to its makers prestigious backgrounds
Its been an interesting observance watching some of the high end and most well renowned music sources fawning over the concept of Benga, Skream and Artwork joining forces like some unmitigated force deemed worthy of the biggest hype train possible. Admittedly, it wasn't the most implausible conclusion that one could come to, all of these fine upstanding gents have, at one time or the other, delivered the sonic goods. Benga is still one of the silent champions of the scene, preferring to step aside and let his music do all of the talking, which has produced significant results; and Artwork dropped a great EP in the form of Red
...... all the way back in 2002. And then of course there's Skream, the young boy who, despite having a very checkered and versatile yet uneven discog, still commands audiences intent on hanging on until he does drop another, inevitable, banger. I mean, its not rocket science to assume that bringing these boys together and locking them in a room until the ball gets rolling should have resulted in a solid record – not necessarily dropping the definitive album that these “music sources” have been looking for ever since Burial decided to enter semi retirement, but a full well rounded album deemed significant enough to have warranted the formation of this “super group of dubsteppers” in the first place.
I was admittedly a little suspicious when this trio announced they had combined forces like some ragtag ensemble of wannabe messiahs intent on bringing dubstep out from its gutter level clinging into the bright shining lights of, I don't know – let's say Top Of The Pops. They certainly aren't the first bunch of like minded musicians to attempt to pin a face to the scene, Skream's already been there and tried that out for himself, and we all remember the result of that little escapade don't we? It just seemed a little pretentious, despite the fact that not a single word had been uttered regarding their “true” intentions. In fact, they pretty much kept to themselves, silently releasing The Cyberman
EP to small acclaim. And it was upon that release that I started to get just a little excited at the possibilities on offer. Yes it wasn't the second coming and yes, it was a little rough around the edges but it was ripe with fully realized talent and solid, well formed ideas. So seriously, guys: what the fuc
k happened to all that promise?
Now I want to be kind here given the combined legacy of the group but there is nothing on offer here that is in anyway remarkable, or at the very least, a continuation of their earlier frivolities, even if it was done to a lesser effect. There's something of a huge weight on the shoulders of these lads and sadly, they've faltered as a result of the pressure. What they've haphazardly tacked together here are 14 insipid tracks served cold and lifeless. The album is split between two distinct styles – the first, fringe pop doused in a thin yet fine layer of rave tinged dubstep, and the other a loose collection of instrumental numbers which could be best described as a step by step guide on how to “dub your step for beginners”.See, make no mistake here, Magnetic Man are a shiny pop act with eyes set on Ibiza beaches rather than the dirty streets of Croydon. And for evidence of this accusation you only need to hear the album's first single 'I Need Air', an alarmingly terrible number featuring current scene sweetheart Angela Hunte. The vocals themselves are grating enough (which isn't really a huge surprise) but the banality of the onset of a trance vibe is more than a little startling, and in all honesty, incredibly scary. Its not even remotely endearing to see these boys reaching for the stars (especially if they had actually done a good job), its borderline detestable.
Further along on the guest inclusions, Ms. Dynamite tries her hardest to breathe life into 'Fire', but produces nothing more than a very mundane nature to the tepid stomper; John Legend goes full croon on the album's worrisome but hopefully reflective album closer, and Sam Frank becomes the poster boy for autotune on the slightly hard hitting 'Boiling Water'. When the group aren't attempting to cater to guest vocalists (and really, you'd think they'd be having a hard enough time attempting to cater to each others unique styles) they rise a little above the mundane and attempt to make small sparks of inspiration. 'Karma Crazy' shows that the team haven't entirely forgotten their roots, even though the track holds nothing particularly memorable or original; ditto both 'Mad' and Anthemic', with the latter the prime reason why a hundred internet bloggers have joined together and pooled their collective resources into coming up with the delightful “trancestep” tag, its essentially the musical equivalent of a Tiesto heart attack happening in zero gravity. So it would seem that my earlier comment of hope for the instrumental selection was something of a lie, which is sort of a half truth at the end of the day – when they're placating to the likes of Katy B they're pushing their potential to the background, thus almost relegating the concept of 3 distinctly different members working together essentially redundant; when they go it alone they almost
manage to brandish some form of artistic merit, so to speak.
If this album only leaves me with one thing it will be the question of whether or not dubstep – dingy, behind closed doors, working late at night in bedrooms, hunched over computers – should ever be allowed to see the light of day, and the answer is no. I can't stop NME and The Guardian from referring every dubstep release back to Burial (day one as far as they are concerned) any more than I could will this album to be as good as I would've liked it to have been, but there's a difference between these sites/magazines seeking underground approval points and artists essentially “outing” themselves by working on unashamedly cash grab releases such as this. They say that everything gets drawn to a magnet, and that does seem to be the case here as they have taken a variety of ideas and styles and pieced them together like a kind of schizophrenic and mismatched jigsaw puzzle, but they also say that shi
t sticks to everything. Avoid.